On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Where have all the Chinese gone?

For the Malays, the numbers will increase to over 670,000, up from 41.3% to 42%, in Penang, which will have a population of 1.6 million.

This is not exactly new. Last year, journalist Helen Ang wrote a well-researched article on the shrinking Chinese community, predicting that in another 25 years, the Chinese population will be down to a mere 18.6% of the population.

It is projected that while the annual growth of the bumiputra population in the next decade (2011-2021) will be at 1.98%, the corresponding Chinese growth will only be 0.73%.

Quoting researcher Saw Swee Hock, Ang wrote that by 2035, Malaysia will have 41 million people, of which 72.1% would be bumiputra.

The decline in the Chinese population is not just a phenomenon in urban areas in Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh and Seremban but also in rural Kelantan, Terengganu and Perlis.

The reasons are obvious – Chinese parents prefer to have only one or two children in a family that places great emphasis on education. Education certainly does not come cheap as many working parents do not expect or hope for government assistance.

Personal advancement is also high on the priorities of young Chinese and many are putting off marriage. The effects of such decisions have a serious bearing on fertility and family growth.

There is also perhaps lesser pressure on Chinese career women to settle down, unlike in other communities where parents sometimes take an active role in arranging marriages for their children.

There is also another disturbing trend – the Chinese are said to make up the largest num­ber of Malaysians who have migrated, with the number said to be over 300,000 in the last 18 months.

While it is easy to generalise that these Chinese migrated because of grievances with government policies, many could have decided to make these huge decisions because of economic rather than political reasons.

Many parents make the sacrifice of uprooting themselves, and sometimes settling for lower paid jobs, because they have calculated and found it cheaper for their children to have tertiary education in Australia.

This is not peculiar to the Chinese in Malay­sia alone, as it also happens in Singapore and Hong Kong. Even in China, career advancement and economic reasons would be the biggest considerations when the people decide to migrate.

But it cannot be denied that political reasons such as perceived injustices would be a push factor in shaping their decisions. Certain­ly in Malaysia, there are many Chinese who wish that the education system could be better and for a fairer deal and a more efficient and quicker economic pace.

The community works hard for the money. It is their entrepreneurial spirit that has helped ease the burden of the Government. They certainly are the biggest individual taxpayers in the country and we should be grateful for their contributions.

That is what the Chinese want, it’s that simple. They do not want the Government to owe them a living. They merely expect to be accorded respect and recognition. Surely they need not be reminded by petty-minded politicians to be grateful.

The majority of Chinese would stay in this country because they love Malaysia and they do not know any other country, just like their Malay and Indian brethren.

A week in a foreign land, even China, is enough and they will yearn to come home to where they were born and will certainly die in.

The sharp drop in the Chinese population would certainly have political, economic and social ramifications.

Chinese-based political parties would obviously need to re-think their strategies, if not the future of their membership base.

Far-sighted Chinese businessmen, seeing the changing demography of Malaysia, have already reassessed their customer base. Direct selling company Hai-O, for example, began a radical shift towards the growing Malay market by recruiting Malay members and rewarding them with trips to the Holy Land.

Hypermarkets are said to prefer locating their premises in Malay majority areas because of the huge consumption of their bigger families compared with smaller Chinese families. For sure, the Malay middle class now has stronger purchasing power.

Many Chinese restaurants, especially in Kuala Lumpur, have changed their menus to pork-free or halal to win a larger customer base.

For some, the factors of demand and supply have simply led to the growing degree of integration or pressure of assimilation.

There would be other challenges for the community, including having to improve on their social and language skills, as Malaysia evolves.

Certainly, it makes little practical sense for Chinese guilds and associations to reward married couples with small amounts of cash to have children in their attempt to reverse the trend.

It is better that greater attention be placed on improving the quality of the young in the community, to rise to the challenges of the changing world, and become good Malay­sians. Quite simply, it’s the quality that matters.